The War on Young Black Men – A Conversation on Stereotyping

Not long ago, I was safe in the confines of my home with my children when I saw a lone male walking the street in front of my house. He wore a hoodie, was youngish, talking on his cell phone, and looking around. Based on these factors – did I step back and draw the blinds? Did I instinctively get protective of my children? Was I afraid? And the elephant-in-the-room question – what color was he? I couldn’t tell in the evening twilight, under the hoodie.

But I can be honest: I felt fear, having just experienced a break-in (this was in Bellingham). Now to deny that people have this experience is to shut down this conversation right here and now – we fear the other – but before we jump to lumping people into categories, making generalizing and damning statements about people other than us, HOLD — we need to have a conversation! We need to get to know the other.

What we should NOT do: premeditatively decide to pack heat and pursue the boy, and intentionally get into some altercation all the while knowing I have a lethal weapon in my pocket. No. Something is clearly wrong with this. And that’s where Trayvon Martin’s murderer went clearly wrong. But his initial mistake is one we all make, and that is stereotyping / racial profiling (and believe me; I’m not only guilty of this, but also a victim of it). But instead of moving beyond that to conversation, to understanding, to knowing who our neighbors are and learning to know and love them – he went on the attack.

In the city I currently live in, the suburbs are not what they used to be. Once bastions of white propriety, they have now drawn flocks of minorities of all shades and it’s a messier place than it used to be. Inter-racial dramas play out, Korean vs. Black, Latino vs. Vietnamese, and so on and so forth. I’ve seen it. And above it all, policing happens in subtle ways; from harsh HOA policies to roving squad cars manned by well-meaning officers perhaps (mis)guided by the same lenses that we all wear. And instead of uniting, somehow the neighborhood fragments, along racial lines. The suburbs are falling apart.

At the risk of airing our own dirty laundry, Koreans are notorious for profiling and stereotyping. We gather in our enclaves and say things that don’t bear repeating here. But I want to move beyond this… this… suspicion. This fear. I want to know. Understand. Love. Care. I hope there will never be another Trayvon Martin. Not in my community. No; I want to bridge the communities.

One way to approach this problem? Know every child in your neighborhood – black or white or yellow or brown – and treat them as your own.

Published by Wayne Park

Asian-American clergyman thinking about issues of faith, place, race and culture-making in the vast city of Houston, TX

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